Sean Gabb and that Labour MP

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 167
21st November 2007

Notes on a BBC Debate Between
Chris Bryant MP and Sean Gabb
by Sean Gabb

I went on the wireless yesterday morning—the 20th November—to debate freedom of speech with a Labour Member of Parliament. Apparently, the Oxford Union is holding a debate of its own about this matter, and has invited both David Irving and Nick Griffin to speak. Mr Irving, for those who do not know his name, is an historian who has at various times doubted the nature and extent of national socialist holocaust in Germany. Mr Griffin seems to have no particular opinion on the holocaust, but is leader of the main British white nationalist party. I am not sure if the two men have ever met. I do not know what they think about each other. But they have enemies in common, and these tend to place the two men into the same “fascist” category.

Chris Bryant is the Labour Member of Parliament for Rhondda. He believes that the Oxford Union should withdraw its invitation from two such allegedly wicked men. I was called on by the BBC to put the case against him.

I think the idea was that Mr Bryant should attack freedom of speech and I should defend it. But Mr Bryant was too clever to allow the debate to run in this course. He insisted that Messrs Irving and Griffin should have the right to speak their minds in places like Hyde Park, but that the Oxford Union should not pollute itself with their company. On the face of things, then, he was not arguing for censorship—no more than I might be if I advised you not to invite the Seventh Day Adventists into your house. Of course, his argument was only on the face of things. We live in a country where the old boundaries between state and voluntary activity have been so blurred by subsidy and regulation and deals behind the curtain, that advice is fast becoming the same as instruction. And Mr Bryant would not really defend the right of these two men to speak in Hyde Park. Any meeting they called there would be banned under the Public Order Act 1986. If the meeting were allowed to go ahead, all the speeches would be filmed by the police, and the speakers would face criminal charges under the various terrorism and racial hatred laws brought in since 1997. I do not suppose Mr Bryant would hurry forward to criticise any of this.

But he was making a clever point. To answer him would require more time than was available. So, having heard him out, I decided to go on the attack. I thanked him for his “defence” for freedom of speech, then denounced him for criticising men who were not his moral inferiors. Mr Bryant, I told the listeners, had voted for identity cards, for ninety day imprisonment without trial or charge, and for a war with Iraq that had so far killed 650,000 people. He had no right to call anyone a fascist.

It took thirty seconds and was very easily done. I reduced the man to spluttering rage. He spent the rest of the debate trying to defend his voting record, while insisting that some of his best friends had been murdered by Generals Franco and Pinochet. My answer to this one was: “Then you should know better”. That really upset him, and gave the presenter an excuse to deliver a good kicking of her own.

I recorded the debate and have put in on the Multimedia Page of the Libertarian Alliance Website. You can find it here:

But what makes this debate worth noting is not that I was rather witty or cruel. It is notable so far as it shows how easy it has become to reveal the moral bankruptcy of our ruling class.

Mr Bryant is a typical member of this class. At Oxford, he was a member of the Conservative Association. He next took holy orders in the Church of England, becoming first a curate and then a youth chaplain. After this, he joined the Labour Party and got a job at the BBC. In 2001, he was sent into Parliament for the pocket borough of Rhondda—a place where a Labour candidate would be elected even if it were a dead cat. His most public achievement since then has been to put up semi-nude pictures of himself on a website to assist his search for male company.

I am a few years older than Mr Bryant, and I attended not Oxford but York University. Even so, I know his sort. He belongs to a class and generation of people who combine endless moral superiority with bossiness. All through the 1980s and 1990s, they recited their mantra of contempt for anyone who was not one of them. When they came into their own, they said, they would make England into a kinder, gentler country. Their order would be more tolerant, more inclusive, more open and more accountable. Once they had dropped their commitment to socialist economics, they even promised it would be no less economically efficient.

Because their intentions were so pure, no moral failing or evidence of hypocrisy could be held against them. Look at Mr Bryant’s search for male company. When the newspapers showed us a man in ill-preserved middle age posing like a model from an underwear catalogue, his friends put round the word that he was the victim of an “anti-gay” witch hunt. When it was said that, regardless of sexual taste, he should have behaved with more dignity, we were reminded that the 1950s were over and we now lived in “Cool Britannia”. Attacks on his support, and that of his class, for the European Union were thrown back as accusations of “xenophobia” and “extremist tendencies”. Rising evidence of corruption and administrative incompetence were brushed aside.

But there comes a point when the truth is both undeniable and hurtful. After ten years of domination by these people, we have now reached that point. It is useful to rub noses in the daily scandal. At the moment, Mr Bryant and his class are presiding over the negligent loss of 25 million names and identification data. Tomorrow, it will be something else. But there is always some more or less credible excuse to get them out of permanent trouble. The real stick to use against them is three bloody wars and a police state at home. They promised us neither of these things. But that is what they have delivered.

I wish they had been more like the people they always said they were. But one advantage of their not having been so is their plain embarrassment. We do not live in the world that they promised us, and perhaps that they did vaguely want. We live in a world where they are looking and sounding and behaving just like their parodic notion of the old ruling class.

I called Mr Bryant a fascist. He took vast offence at the word. I may yet receive a letter from his solicitor. But after ten years of rule by him and his class, what other political term fits him better?


  1. Sean might like to know that I have wiki’d Chris Bryant, and he is indeed a type of man whom objectivist libertarians would aver harboured fascist tendencies. I am being deliberately mealy-mouthed for we can’t afford to be sued, but he is involved with the leftist-inclined (for they are self-adimttedly statist) organisation “Common Purpose”, run by someone called Julia Middleton. You can get all these on wikipedia, I do not know how to paste the links into a comment so you will have to do it yourself as I am not a naturally-autonomous geek who can voluntarily follow-up the solution to this mind of problem as often as I feel like it, and I now have to put the children to bed.

  2. So far as one can tell, trying to read through the doublespeak, Common Purpose is an elitist circle-jerk for the Governing Class, part of the project of replacing democracy and individual autonomy (i.e. westernism) with “governance” by “stakeholders” (i.e. decision making by a huddle of special interest groups).

    As one might expect, Ms. Middleton appears to have had negligible contact with the real world, having spent her entire adult life as part of various non-productive statist organisations. Like the entire cabinet, come to think of it.

    Do links work in comments? Let’s try one!


  3. He will not sue you sean, for he has not time. The wheels may at last be coming off the “New” “Labour” “Nazi” project, and he has to look after his own. Pity he went to a good University, what a waste of talent. he would have been good as the marketing guy for that firm of Yugoslavian sweetmakers that has just left our town, for a newer and cheaper factory in Upper-Jippoopoo-Land.

  4. The wheels may be wobbling on New Labour, but sadly the entire immense gubmint apparatus is all in place and will remain so whoever wins the next contest for Regional Governor of our Eurozone. 🙁

    Teh Statists have spent over a century building the edifice and are firmly entrenched. I wish I could think of a way to pull it down. I have this little flutter of hope that some drastic libertarian gains can be made in the wake of the collapse of Global Warming, should that occur (please, Gawd!). I think Libertarians need to be ready to pounce if and when that arises to try to make sure that the Statists don’t get away with it. We must shout from the rooftops that it wasn’t some kind of genuine mistake, but a well orchestrated campaign of lies, and somehow make sure that everyone who was involved is seen to be responsible. In my little dream, the political class are flung out of power en masse, in total shame.

    I can dream, can’t I? 🙂

  5. I don’t think there is any doubt that Irving and Griffiths are both, in their own way, odious and nasty people. That apart, they have the right, incitement to murder and mayhem apart, to voice their opinions, but equally I and others have the right to condemn them for being the odious people they are.

    The right to free speech does not extend to the right to force others to hear you. Without the invitation from the Oxford Union, Griffiths and Irving would have remained in the obscurity they so deserve. The Union, as students usually do, is trying to be ‘controversial’. That they have the right to extend and invitation doesn’t mean they should have done so, nor does it make them immune for criticism and condemnation for their stupidity in doing so.

    Of course the invitation having been freely made, no one else should have the right, whether by the force of law or physically, to prevent them speaking.

  6. I think perhaps the issue here is whether members of the government should get involved. It’s the thing where it’s “are they acting as a representative of the gubmint, or as a private person?” thing. And the truth there is that if an MP says they’re just making a personal choice, by the nature of their position as an MP it is unavoidably not just the act of a private citizen. It’s a little like the climatologist Jim “Help! I’m Being Oppressed” Hansen claiming in his endless round of public appearances that NASA are preventing him speaking. I remember him at the height of that claiming that he was speaking as a private person, not as a NASA scientist, so they had no right to say he should tone down the “We’re all going to die” stuff.

    But of course it’s impossible for him to speak as a private person. He’s head of the NASA GISS team producing temperature statistics. If he speaks publicly, he’ll inherently be seen to be representing that– and if he really were to speak as Jim Hansen, private citizen, would anyone book him? What’s he going to do, a slideshow of his holiday snaps? A talk on his favourite Italian recipes?

    So back with this issue, an MP taking a stand on this is inherently seen as acting in an official capacity and the issue is the “chilling effect” that has. It puts pressure on Oxford not to invite people who are officially disapproved of.

    If Ian B (either of us), a genuinely private citizen, boycotts the Oxford Union, nobody gives a flying fiddler. When officials do it, it chills free debate.

    Fundamentally I don’t think Sean Gabb particularly won this one. To a non-libertarian supporter, he just came across as not discussing the issue. Bryant’s central argument was that free speech should only be allowed where it won’t matter, where it can’t be heard (Speakers’ Corner). Anywhere where it matters, it should be suppressed. I think Gabb would have been better off attacking that view, myself.

    Not that one little debate on the wireless makes much odds anyway. But if you’re going to take part, you may as well at least try to stick to the point. Wise libertarian heads have a more subtle understanding of fascism than the ordinary listener, recognising that what our country is heading into is effectively fascism. But the ordinary listener just thinks Hitler and concentration camps and ovens, so calling someone a fascist sounds like extremist nuttery.

  7. Libertarians know that Fascists are particular statists which fragment society by force into sovietized groups, and then trade favours between them using stolen funds, plus use one group to terrorize another – vide; the NSDAP and the Jews in Europe. Just what is going on here.

    The trouble is that although libertarians are right to describe fascism thus, one of the above Ians is also right, since “The Public” does not understand this in any detail at all. They are told by the Wireless Tele Vision what they are suppsed to think that “fascist” means, and that is that.

    We have to rescue the word, so we can apply it to the proper people.

  8. David, I agree. If the Gramscians have taught us nothing else, they’ve taught that the hegemony really is the key, and control over language is an important aspect of that.

    It’s strange. In a strong sense, Sean Gabb in his book, and I myself personally, agree that Gramsci was actually right about cultural hegemony, and the Left are indeed proving that. What he was wrong about of course was (a) the “old” cultural hegemony and (b) what the “new” one should be.

    So effectively we have to fight fire with fire. Our task must be to reclaim the language, to redirect the hegemony in a freedom-loving direction, to play the Gramscians at their own game. Can we reclaim “fascist”? Can we educate significant numbers to understand that fascism is to communism as Protestant is to Catholic, or Sunni to Shia– competitive sects of the same ideology? Can we convincingly show that fascism is defined more by collectivism, state corporatism, suppressed individualism and cultural monopoly than by gas chambers, and that militarism and imperialism are shared by communism and fascism? Can we dismantle the most pernicious hegemonic construction- the myth Left/Right political map and replace it with the real one, authoritarians versus libertarians (with libertarians on the “Good” side and authoritarians compared casually to Genghis Khan?) Perhaps we can if we try very hard. 🙂

  9. Here’s a (probably useless) thought I just had.

    Socialists tend to describe their creed as the solution to the Tragedy Of The Commons. (As libs, we know that’s a fallacy). But look at it another way- socialism (meaning all collectivisms) is the Tragedy Of The Commons.

    The Commons here is the resources controlled by government. The people over-use and abuse those resources (the TOTC) and, furthermore, attempt to expand the Commons as they ruin what there is already. Ultimately the Commons encompasses all the “land”, and thus all the land is ruined. The Commons consumes and destroys the productive economy.

    Libertarians know the answer to this one- don’t have a Commons (or minimise it as much as is possible). Indeed in this context, libertarianism is the declaration that we should reduce or abolish the Commons.

    But the villagers have always had a Commons and like it, and it’s in their short-term interest to have one, even though it will bring ruin in the long term. As the current Commons is laid waste, the villagers demand land be taken from others, to create more Commons for their use.

    How do we persuade the villagers to give up their Commons? What arguments will persuade them that it’s in their best interests beyond the short term? As free marketeers, we believe in the virtue of self interest. For most people, self interest leads to demanding an ever large Commons, even though it leads to the tragedy. Is it this paradox that prevents libertarianism gaining ground?

    Not particularly profound I admit, just a thought you know.

  10. There is a discussion going on in various blogs at the moment (but then isn’t that always the case) about the simplistic left/right way of categorising political positions. I think my doppelganger above has it correct – there is a dimension based on ones attitude to authority, but that itself encompasses both social and economic issues.

    The Political Compass site ( takes this approach, but I think that there are likely to be other dimensions to the extent that advanced maths would be needed to do the analysis. The political compass approach also doesn’t go down well with many libertarians because it admits of the possibility of left libertarianism!

    Also in my comment above, for Griffiths of course read Griffin. I was probably thinking of another – equally odious – politician, the ‘Parliamentary Leper’ (

  11. A further point – the other Ian referred to Bryant as a ‘member of the government’. He isn’t except in the limiting sense of being in the same party. He isn’t a minister in any way. I presume it isn’t his (IB2) intention to argue that MPs should only speak as one voice with the party line? That would surely be even worse than the position he objects to.

  12. Ian B, the other one, not me– I didn’t actually say he was a member of the government, merely an MP, I think. But the point still holds. As an MP, his opinion holds more sway than that of Joe Blogs and as an MP of the governing party, at least partially his stance will be seen as “official”. I don’t think MPs should have to follow a party line- it’s fundamentally undemocratic, but then so are political parties in themselves. As our representatives, really MPs should just do what we want and not display a personal opinion as such, ideally.

    Care to name any of these blogs you mentioned where a left/right debate is underway?

  13. I just looked up this Bryant guy. The last sentence in his Wikipedia entry is: “In 2011, in the House of Commons, he criticised Prince Andrew, Duke of York for a number of alleged indiscretions.” Kettle Bryant, Pot York.

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